Stumbling into the new year

Karin Sowada

Scenes of the PM and Opposition Leader being bustled out of a Canberra function recently bode ill for a more civilised political year. With Federal Parliament set to resume on 7 February, it was a very bad look for the PM, especially as a member of her staff effectively initiated the fracas.

This sort of stuff is straight out of the political dirty tricks handbook. The resulting unexpected publicity is a lesson for one and all, especially the ALP; it has done nothing to increase Julia Gillard's standing with the electorate or within her own party.

What is even more annoying is that whatever you think of Tony Abbott, he actually knows something about Aboriginal issues, more than the average urban MP or political staffer. As Health Minister he spent much time travelling around remote and regional communities speaking with elders; he still regularly heads up to the remote Cape York area and is well-informed on the complexities of indigenous matters.

NSW State Parliament also resumes on 14 February, so here are some pointers to what we can expect during 2012 ...

1. The failure of the Federal Government to honour the commitment to pokie reform with Andrew Wilkie is a further dent in Labor's credibility and continues to undermine public trust in the Gillard Government. Moreover, the elevation of Peter Slipper as Speaker can now be seen in a different light: Harry Jenkins was pushed to shore up the Government's numbers in the expectation that Wilkie would walk away from the table, which he will.

2. Having won this unfortunate victory, the clubs, pubs and liquor industry will continue to strengthen their grip on public policy. It is now clear that few political leaders are prepared to stand up to them. Moreover, as a number of commentators have said, as a community we are prepared to live with the social consequences of both excessive drinking and pokies.

3. It is hard to see the Gillard Government surviving to year's end. Peter Slipper is an unknown quantity, one of Labor's MPs is still under pressure, Andrew Wilkie will withdraw his support, Kevin Rudd is looking to return and other pretenders are waiting for blood in the water. Tony Abbott will continue his relentless negativity and we will certainly see a string of no confidence motions in the House of Representatives as the Opposition tests the numbers.

4. In NSW, this is the year that Barry O'Farrell needs to start doing something. March is the first anniversary of the Coalition's election in NSW yet there seems little to show for it. The Libs need to muscle up to the National Party and get on with its reform agenda. Expect a ministerial re-shuffle mid-year.

5. The gay marriage debate will reach the end game, for now. Its advocates will have a hard time getting their proposals through Federal Parliament, but the issue will not go away. As other western democracies liberalise the laws and people seek marriage overseas, this will put considerable pressure on local legislators to bring our laws into line with overseas practice.

6. With heat now removed from the carbon tax debate, attention will now focus on coal seam gas as the No. 1 'hot button' environment issue in the eastern states, along with water management. Both the NSW State and Federal Governments will feel the pressure on this, particularly with NSW trailing in the economic wake of the mining boom.

7. And of course, there is the risk of global economic meltdown. With IMF leaders speaking of another Great Depression and the US facing the policy paralysis of a Presidential election year, this means challenging economic times ahead. Australia is better placed than most, but policy makers, suoerannuants and many others will face some sleepless nights.

As the political year resumes, please pray for our political leaders as the Scriptures command (see 1 Tim 2:1-4)